Monday, August 3, 2009

WrightCon 2009

After a scheduling mishap early in the month, we finally worked it all out for a day-long session on July 26 up in the land of cheap beer (New Hampshire). Al hosted, so the day bears his name as the 'Con of the moment.

The usual suspects, Al, Joshua, Mike C., and Scott (Four Horsemen of the "Awww... I Just Missed!") attended, along with the most famous Phil Collins I'm ever likely to meet. So we had five players, which was great; though sadly we didn't take real advantage with a game of Dune.

In fact, we started the day with Railroad Tycoon, which has a game board as large as its payouts are small. My bad luck started the night before when my car battery died, so we didn't get started until 11:00 am (Mike kindly drove an extra hour to pick me up). All five played this game.

With 13 advantage cards to start, you'd expect the two-operations card to show, and of course it did right away. Joshua realized the value from the practice round they'd played earlier, so he bid high and won the right to go first. He took full advantage, connecting two cities in the northeast and delivering a good before the rest of us realized what happened. By the end of the first round, he had about nine victory points to second place's two or three.

And of course, that meant more income for Joshua which meant more track which meant more points which meant more income which meant more bonuses which meant... sigh, which meant that it looked like a runaway after about 15 minutes. Which, if you read this blog sounds about right for this group. But things don't usually stay that way for long.

The second round of bidding for pole position got a lot more interesting when Scott blurted out that a bonus was easily available to the first player. And Joshua's long-winded explanation of how valuable the bonus was brought about the quote of the day, courtesy of Mike: "Josh, you put the 'agony' in agonizing every move." Trust me, that was not the last time we heard *that* quote on the day -- and it probably won't be the last time we ever hear it, either.

Allan won that bid and completed a link that put him in a solid second. But the bidding cost him a bit too much so he had to borrow an extra $5,000 from the bank... and gave us our next quote of the day: "No, it *wasn't* worth the buck!"

As the game progressed, Joshua was in the mid-Atlantic, with Mike down south and Allan up north. Track was built and rebuilt to avoid using any else's rails. Scott had an east-then-midwest strategy and Phil strictly midwest (with a nice run through the center of the country). In fact, going west looked good for a while, as Phil and Scott kept their debt to a minimum and still made significant inroads. But there was too much "red" to deliver out there and too many tiles to build to Chicago (the only "red" city in the area) and those two butted heads ended up canceling each other out.

For a while it looked like it would be Joshua or Allan for the championship, though Joshua maintained his lead. But Mike made a lot of hay in the south and kept delivering and delivering among three cities. And a late push by Phil made a possible track bonus a big deal. However, even with Mike's late surge, it was Joshua who kept racking up the bonus points (first to use a three-train, first to buy a four-train, etc.), and he did end up with the win. After a two-hour game, here were the results:

Joshua = 49
Mike = 40
Phil = 34
Allan = 28
Scott = did not finish (actually, an embarrassing 21 points -- yuck!)

We broke for lunch at a great local rib joint (Goody Cole's Smokehouse -- try the frito dish; it's outstanding!) before heading back to beat each other into the ground.

Next up was a five player game of Caylus, one that we'd tried before but thought was unnecessarily complex. But Joshua arrived second so by tradition he got to call second game.

It started out simply enough, with Scott building three tiles and heading out to a commanding lead (about 18 to 8, I think). Mike got screwed by a few rules that he didn't think were made entirely clear -- you know, little things like not pissing off the King... TWICE! All the while, Phil and Allan built some stone and green buildings for decent VP and mounted their comeback.

Al passed Scott about halfway through by taking chances necessary to get some gold for large buildings and used very strategic placement of "the provost" (and late "passes" for good position on the bridge). Phil kept building small stuff, while Al and Joshua started converting pink buildings to VP-laden ones. VP for them, that is... naturally. And Joshua and Mike were still very far back, but Joshua hording goods, stacking them in sets of threes that looked destined to build the King's castle. But that wasn't his strategy, as you'll soon find out.

Turns out some of what Joshua was hording was gold, and on the very last turn, he went first and built the 25-VP building, which vaulted him from waaaaayyyyyy back into first. In fact, between that play and some other stuff, he scored at least 29 of his 69 total points on that turn alone! Which means he scored at least 42% of his points on one turn in a game with 15 or 16 turns.

So how did it all end up? Well, Scott did his best but couldn't overcome the combination Karama/Guild Hall/Emperor for Life scam that Joshua sniffed out. And so the final standings showed yet another victory for Joshua. "Curse you, Red Baron!"

Joshua = 69 (victory points)
Scott = 65
Mike = 56
Allan = 55
Phil = 52

Phil had to leave, so we finished up with a four-player Starfarer's of Catan, which might have some of the coolest pieces of any game ever. And let me say up front that Joshua's luck finally ran out -- he was dead last from the get-go. Of course, my luck hadn't changed since the dead battery, so I had high hopes for this one.

We started at 6:30, and by 6:35 Mike bemoaned not following his *own* strategy. He thought you should have a spaceport in the front row to enable easier ship launching, and then ended up with none there. He did okay, though, getting two trade ships out and landed (though with a bad event card one ended up taking forever). Joshua puttered around with lasers and boosters, as the resources just wouldn't come to help him build ships.

Allan and Scott were tooling around the universe, looking for decent places to land. And then it happened -- the oh-so-friendly Travellers gave space-jumps to Mike and Joshua. Josh's was lame, giving him a trade ship that he couldn't land. But Mike leveraged his to a landed trade ship (just ahead of Joshua), and before you knew it he had three of the "friend" disks (worth 2-VP each), and had vaulted out of the charity area to the lead.

Scott was sort of middle of the pack, using a space jump and spaceport strategically to enable ship launching from the middle of the board. But in the end, he didn't have the freight rings to land trade ships, and his strategy petered out. Maybe he was there just to make Joshua not feel entirely lame; I think Joshua was actually in VP deficit at one point :)

But Al mounted a furious comeback, building a laser-and-freight ring laden ship that blasted through "red" planets, getting VP for it. He even got a space jump (after much wailing at the cruel universe), and appeared poised to take the game.

However, in the end, Mike's lead was just too great, and when he bought the fame ring to end the game, Al thought he was two turns away. Final standings looked like this:

Mike = 15
Allan = 14
Scott = 10
Joshua = 9

So that was WrightCon 2009. Only three games, but still a heck of a lot of fun. Thanks to Al for hosting, to Mike for driving me up, and to Joshua for driving me home.

Be well, and I'll see you in the sand,

- Scott


  1. One thing I like better about Starfarers than Settlers is that there are two clear strategy choices: Go for the trading outposts, or go for settlements. And a third choice, which would be a blend. Wait, I'll start again. Among our three elements of strategy are... oh, nvm.

    Anyway, if nobody competes with you for trading outposts, it seems like a pretty clear win.

  2. Mike had a good win, even if he did pimp his ride out to the Travellers a bunch.

    As for Caylus, if it didn't take FOUR HOURS to play I guess I'd hate it less. To me it seems like someone took a box of Puerto Rico and a box of Pillars of the Earth, mixed them up and spread them out and there's Caylus. Too many game mechanics in one game, even if they are mechanics I like in both the other games. Shame is in 4 hours we could have played Puerto Rico AND Pillars of the Earth and probably had more fun doing so. Lesson learned.

    Railroad Tycoon was a pleasant surprise on a couple levels: 1) It played much faster than expected. 2) It seems more fun than expected. The only thing I'm looking to see is if after playing it once if our play styles will evolve to the point where it just isn't a runaway for the front runner. Too many of the achievement cards are predicated on your game position. I fear thay might be a problem. I think an easy solution could be just to remove the suspect achievements (first 3 delivery, first 4 train). We'll see after we play a few more times.